Category Archives: Life On The Ranch

Spring Bluebonnets

As predictable as spring calves in Texas are the coming of bluebonnets. These surprisingly hardy flowers grow along the roadside, in pastures, and even in bad soil. The bluebonnets and other wild flowers were once so widespread in Texas that a 19th century Texas Ranger once wrote that he could ride all day and never get off a carpet of wild flowers. The bluebonnets were said to be stirrup high and at times even to impede his progress. Forcing him to slow up and focus on nature’s beauty may have had behavioral benefits.

Considering that Texas Rangers were usually in pursuit of cattle rustlers, murderers, horse thieves, and Comanche on the warpath what an impact the peaceful bluebonnet must have had. Despite the violent ways of men, the hardy flower would grow and thrive and suggest a peaceful, calming effect for all.

Unsurprisingly, the bluebonnet became the official State flower of Texas. Rest assured this wild flower was around long before Texans. The Native Americans in this area, principally the Comanche, had a legend as to how the bluebonnet came about.

Since Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch derives from the “strong medicine” offered this area by this earlier culture, it only seems appropriate to share the Comanche legend on the origin of Bluebonnets here. It is as follows:

Comanche Long ago upon the great plains of Texas a young Comanche child named Stars-In-The-Sky lived with her family in her small Indian wicoti mitawa ( whi-coe-tee mi-tah-wah ), which means village. Each morning before the Wi ( wee ), sun rose in the Skan ( skhan ), sky Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota ( mahtoe’ – hoe -tah ), Grizzly Bear would leave their little village with the other warriors to go hunting for tatanka ( tah-tahn-kah ) buffalo. Lately when the warriors came back to the village in the han-yetu ( hahn-yeetoo ), nighttime no buffalo would have been sighted. Without the buffalo to provide for all their needs, Stars-In-The-Sky’s village slowly began to starve.Months passed and the summer days came into being. As is usual in Texas, summer drought dried up the rain and drove the smaller animals into the deep piney woods far from Stars-In-The-Sky’s village. With the smaller animals gone and the buffalo not yet returning to the area surrounding her tribe, the men turned to the guidance of Keema the Wicasa Wankan ( wih-cahsa wahn-kahn ) Holy Man of the village. Keema decided the warriors of the village must raise their voices together and pray to Nagi Tanka ( nahgee tahn-kah ), the Great Spirit, to ask for the rain to fall and the buffalo to come back.

One night later, when the moon was full in the sky, Keema gathered the men on a high bluff overlooking the village and plains. With one old, gnarled hand clutch around a burning cedar bow, Keema thrust the burning stick into a large pile of branches that had been gathered by the women and younger girls of the village earlier in the day.

The Holy Man stretched his arms to the sky and pleaded with the Great Spirit, ” Hey-Ay-Hee-Ee, Nagi Tanka! Bring back the rain, bring back the buffalo!” Deep into the night Keema prayed until his voice was rough and feeble from his freverent prayers and his eyes gritty and tired with unshed tears.

As Stars-In-The-Sky lay in her tepee listening to the sounds from the bluff, she wondered what she could do to help her family and the people she loved. She pondered what she, such a small girl, could give the Great Spirit to make him happy. Stars-In-The-Sky’s pride and joy was a small, handmade, leather doll her family had made her on her last birthday when she had turned eight years old. Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota (grizzly bear) had caught all the animals needed for the skins to make the doll’s body and dress. Her Ina’ ( eenah ) mother, had taken the time to dye and bead the small dress, and had used hair off her own scalp to make the dolly’s long, beautiful braids. Even her small brother Ki-ri-ki ( kee-ree-kee ), Bright Eyes had helped by donating a bluejay feather he had found last spring when the first bluejays had crossed in the sky. Stars-In-The-Sky was very proud of her doll.

With all of this running through her mind, Stars-In-The-Sky decided the best thing to do was to give her favorite thing to the Great Spirit. When she herd the men come back to the village and her father come into the teepee, she pretended to be asleep. As soon as her father fell into a deep, steady sleep Stars-In-The-Sky crept out of her sleeping furs and into the still night.

Her doll clutched in her trembling hand, she made her way up to the still glowing embers of the bonfire on the bluff. Holding her doll tightly to her chest and crying softly Stars-In-The-Sky started praying, “Hey – Ay- Hee- Ee, Nagi Tanka!

I am but a small, insignificant girl but I am trying wohitika (woah-hit-tih-kah ) to be brave. My younger brother is so hungry as is my whole village. Give me a So-an-ge-ta-ha ( soh- ahn – gee- tah- hah ) strong heart, Nagi Tanka. I beg you! Except my dolly as a gift in exchange for my village, my people, my family. I beg you! Pilimaya Nagi Tanka! ( pill- ah- mae- yah nahgee tahn-kah ) thank you, Great Spirit.”

As Stars-In-The-Sky finished her prayer she gave her beloved doll one last hug and then threw it into the fire. She turned away from the fire, paused to look over her shoulder one last time, saw the fire catch the dolly’s buckskin dress fire, and then walked proudly back to the village.

The next morning Stars-In-The-Sky was awakened by loud shouts outside her teepee. She crawled out of her sleeping furs and went to the tent flap to see what all the commotion was about. As Stars-In-The-Sky looked out she was amazed by what she saw. All over the prairie and covering the surrounding hills grew a strange, bright, blue flower the same color blue as a springtime bluejay feather.

For Stars-In-The-Sky and her village this flower was a blessing from Nagi Tanka. They found they could eat this flower and hold off starvation. With this flower as an ample supply of food small game came back into the area. When the buffalo came back, the large herds seemed to love this new blue flower.

The Comanche tribe called this flower Buffalo Grass in honor of the returning herds. When the wasichu( wah- sih -shoe ) white man came into this part of the country and made it into the state of Texas they renamed and adopted it as the state flower; The Texas Bluebonnet.


Spring- How Lovely You Are

Bluebonnets & Paints

Spring is my favorite season. How can it not be? It’s is a colorful rebirth following the grayness of winter. New fawns and calves on wobbly legs appear, baby birds fly tentatively from their nests, calves wear milky mustaches, bushes blossom, multicolored wild flowers including the locally favorite bluebonnets suddenly erupt, and the trees leaf out in spring green. All signal the yearly, joyous rebirth and infuses us with new found energy, hope, and ambition.

Along with such beauty comes a need to prepare the ranch for the season. In past weeks we’ve taken to whacking down thistle plants (weeds) choosing to grow in my pastures and crowding out grass my stock so greatly needs. The spring calves have needed working and the horses show new found friskiness.

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

A foggy day at the ranch

Fences require mending and cedar needs lopping. The physical work feels good but also fatigues me now more than it used to.

Life seems more vivid, more intense, and hopeful in the springtime. It’s also busier and wearing. Gosh, I love it so and hope i can keep up with it all. A joyous spring to all!

A Farewell To…A Heron

I’ve written several blog pieces lately on a Great Blue Heron that has daily visited our stock tank. The heron and I have developed a predictable morning routine.  Initially I find it perched atop a tree on the opposite bank. Then I throw fish food into the pond. I backtrack to my pickup from where I watch the heron glide gracefully across the stock tank (what a sight with its immense six foot wing span), land, and creep to its protected spot alongside the water. There it stealthily awaits a fish meal to swim by. When this occurs and with lightning like reflexes, it dives into the water to retrieve a fish. Our routine has become part of my morning ritual and, frankly, I’ve come to enjoy and expect it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

Imagine my disappointment the past two weeks when the heron has failed to show up. Initially I shrugged it off as happenstance, as the heron had at times missed a single day. Now it seems all too clear that the heron has left our ranch for another lofty perch.

Spring has sprung in the Texas Hill Country. The Red Bud trees have blossomed and the Bluebonnets are up. The Live Oak trees are  changing over their leaves. Perhaps with the changing of the season, the heron has taken on new territory to fish. Alternatively, my heron may have fallen for a mate and been lured away by surging hormones- Spring is known to do that after all. I can only hope my heron has not befallen some worse fate, a consideration I’m loathe to even consider.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled each morning for the Great Blue Heron but fear it has departed the area or at least left my stock tank. If so,it leaves behind both good memories and hopefully good luck. To be sure, I shall miss its gorgeous flight, its prowess at fishing, its gorgeous appearance, its curious waddling gait, and the way it folds itself into a small package just at the edge of the water.

Come to think of it, The Great Blue Heron may just have tired of my bluegill! Why not for a change dine on Guadalupe bass or fat head minnows?

Farewell Great Blue Heron. You will be missed.

Smart And Protective Mama Cows

We are well into spring calving season with four new, adorable calves. Part of their welcome to the ranch is receiving a vaccination to ward off “black leg”, a particularly serious bacterial infection that kills calves. While our intentions are good, they are usually misunderstood by our always protective mama cows.

Such was the case recently when we roped, held, and tried to vaccinate a new calf. Mama cow took serious exception to our treatment her calf this way. While I attempted to give the subcutaneous injection, mama cow suddenly appeared and forcibly head butted me in the face. The syringe went one way, my glasses flew off in another, and I was pitched backwards unceremoniously. With a sore and bruised face and without glasses, I was virtually worthless. I also was quite vulnerable should she have chosen to take out her animus still further. Fortunately for me, she did not.

Somehow Trudy and Juan found both glasses and syringe, and we finished giving the vaccination to the calf without further incident.

I’ve been asked if I get upset with mama cows when such this happens, as this is not the first time something like this has transpired. My answer is no, as the mama cows are only protecting their offspring.

"You think you are going to do what to my calf?"

“You think you are going to do what to my calf?”

Whenever possible we sequester a calf needing a vaccination, an ear tag, or needing castration from the mother cow. We usually use the pens for these tasks and to great benefit .

On occasion we are not able to move a mama cow and her calf,  for example from the new ranch (Hidden Falls) across and down the county road  “a piece” into our other property (Medicine Spirit Ranch) where are located our only pens .  In such instances we are sorely tempted to try the quick and dirty method of lassoing, holding, and giving a vaccination in the pasture. Sometimes this works and in others I end up on my caboose or more commonly seeing the south end of a calf heading rapidly north.

Such was our ill-fated mission this morning accompanied by Trudy, Juan, and visiting “ranch hands”, LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands

As soon as the mama cow spotted Juan creeping up on her calf with his lasso, she took off with her calf  behind her. To vaccinate this calf, we will need to drive the herd down the county road to Medicine Spirit Ranch and to the protection of our pens. This will have to wait until next week.

Such are the joys of ranching. And to think when I was a doctor never once was I injured. Since becoming a rancher, I’ve broken an arm, blew a disc in my low back, sustained bruises, cuts,
and contusions, and received numerous injuries to my male ego. Oh, but my wonderful outdoor existence along with Mother Nature showing off her wonders more than makes up for any challenges faced.

What a Goose Can Teach Us About Change

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Some time ago, I posted a story of a goose joining a goat herd and how it had  become accepted and integrated within it. The goose has now been part of the goat herd for over a year and continues to waddle along inline with the goats as the herd parades single file across the pasture. No doubt the burro and llama also protect the goose from predators, just as they do the goats.
I began wondering why the goose remains in this unusual situation. This is, after all, unnatural as geese flock with other geese. Wouldn’t it prefer to be among a gaggle of its own kind? Flocks of geese have flown overhead the goose and a large flock of geese resides in Lady Bird Park, not more than five miles away as the goose flies. Despite these opportunities to be more goose-like, this goat-loving goose seems perfectly contented to stay a member of its mixed herd. I am aware that if a burro or llama is raised within a goat herd that it develops protective tendencies for the herd and perhaps in a similar way a young goose becomes comfortable with a herd of goats or cattle. I have also seen an example of the latter when two baby geese were raised on a cattle ranch and later joined the cattle herd..

Recently I was visiting with a friend who has his doctorate in counseling psychology and who did his dissertation on the difficulty in making life changes. I shared this unusual goat story with him. He reminded me that we grow up in our specific environments and tend to accept in a unquestioning manner the opinions of our parents and other significant individuals in our lives. As youth we accept these opinions as absolute truths. Later in life when confronted with facts to the contrary, most folks cannot fully embrace the new information enough to change their long held opinions. Instead they often do mental gymnastics in order to cling to their own outmoded views. Change is hard and its threatening.

Why is this? Well according to my friend, Doctor Jim Spruiell who has 50 years of psychotherapy experience, when we venture too far from our traditional comfort zones, we lose the feeling of  safety. We might wish to change, say quit smoking or change our attitudes or ideas, or favorite sports team, religion, or even political party but such things are foreign to our natures and end up threatening our comfort zone. The subconscious has a major impact on our rational behavior even when change may be the logical course of action.

How does this relate to our one unusual goose? While I have no idea how the goose came to find itself among the herd of goats, it apparently has adapted and the herd has fully accepted it. This has become the expected norm for this goose. The inability to break this pattern would call for a leap of faith on the part of the goose and would take it away from its current protected state.

To a degree aren’t we all tribal in this way? We are comfortable within our belief systems, social crowd, political party, fan club, and interest groups. To break out from these comfortable norms creates apprehension and anxiety. These long held emotional roots run deep. While a few people are confident enough or adaptable enough to change their lives based on new facts perhaps gained through advanced education and deep thought, most of us are not. Oftentimes elaborate rationalizations develop for maintaining old beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Maybe this lone goose is not so unusual after all.

"Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?"

“Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?”

To end on a wistful note, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we humans could learn to accept the differences of others. What if we entered a period in our lives which was foreign to us but did so with love and compassion for others, ignoring the differences. This would give rise to overall justice for us and others in our world.

2016: A Backward Glance

As we close out 2016, it’s worth spending some time for a backward glance. For Medicine Spirit Ranch and this blog, it’s been a great year. Today is a milestone for Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, as this is our 100th post!! Since the inception of the blog, each year has shown increased readership. I thank you for your interest and your terrific responses. Please keep them coming.

On occasion we’ve  written about important and meaningful topics such as personal aspects of the civil rights struggles. In fact our most read blog piece has been Reflections on Greenville, Texas: The Blackest Land and the Whitest People. More frequently we’ve dealt with  ranch and retirement topics, for example the birth of cattle twins on our ranch, the bottle feeding of the rejected twin, a series of posts about Norman during his calf development and adolescence, and the birth of a freemartin.

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil drinks his own libation

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil enjoys his own libation

We’ve written about stocking our tanks with fish and the discovery that I was unwittingly  chumming for the hunting benefit of a Great Blue Heron! Also pictures of various landscapes and sunsets have appeared from time to time with the hope of sharing our little piece of heaven.

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

We’ve had great friends and our wonderful family spend time this year on the ranch including Betty and Cecil Selness from Minneapolis, La Nelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock, Judy Wilkins from Lubbock, Katrina Jansky and son Chance, from San Marcos, Will and Claire Plunket from Austin, Dave and Amy Riley and their family from Dripping Springs, Roger and Marilyn Johnson from Horse Shoe Bay, Greg and Nancy Hocevar soon to be of Fredericksburg, along with lots of family including grandchildren Ramsey and Graham, and Katie’s fiance, Kevin, and his wonderful family from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts thatread Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands. You didn’t think the room and board was without strings did you?

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It has also been a great year for magnificent Texas sunsets, for breaking the drought with a bumper crop of hay, for the Super Moon rising over our barn in spectacular fashion, for fat cattle, for two lazy horses, for three always ready-to-travel dogs, and too numerous to count white tailed deer and other welcome animals e.g. painted buntings along with unwelcome ones e.g. skunks and porcupines that take considerable exception to our dogs.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

Hay is (mostly) in the Barn

Hay is in the Barn

Also my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales was published this year. What a treat not only to see it in print, but also to experience many gratifying reviews. I’ve had a blast speaking at libraries, book clubs, service clubs especially Rotary and Lion’s Clubs, and private book events. I welcome speaking invitations. My thanks to all of you who have helped me in this never ending crusade to have the book appear, succeed, and obtain visibility.Carrying the Black Bag book

Of one thing, I am certain. We’re blessed to enjoy the love of family and friends, and the ambience of Medicine Spirit Ranch, and the readership of this blog.

The dogs and reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

The dogs and I reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

Chumming For Heron

Almost every morning lately I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron majestically fly in to our stock tank while I’m feeding our ducks.

Great Blue Heron in flight

Great Blue Heron in flight

With its long wings beating slowly and deeply and its legs trailing behind, it swoops in and lands 50 yards or so away from me. There it watches my actions closely. It’s a magnificent bird and the largest of the North American herons. The images here were taken from the internet, as our heron appears to be camera shy.great_blue_heron_page_image
The Great Blue Heron is highly adaptive and lives throughout North America. It is abundant throughout Texas, especially along the coastline.

After completing my feeding tasks and retreating back to the pickup, I see the heron on its long, stork-like legs stride to where I’d stood only minutes before. I’d initially assumed the heron was competing with the ducks for the food I’d left on the bank. Later I realized the heron’s real intent.
The Great Blue Heron slowly stalks to the edge of the water, crouches its four and a half foot tall, lanky body down into a compact position with its belly touching the ground. At this point it stands no more than a foot high. It folds its neck back onto its body and waits, and waits, and waits…. It reminds me of a coiled spring. It crouches obscured in part behind tufts of tall native grasses and next to the pond. As I observe its hunting pose, I feel the tension steadily rise within me. After watching motionless and with only a rare flickering of a feather, the Great Blue Heron, like lightning, unleashes itself forward. In less than a blink of the eye, it snatches a fish from our stock tank.

The heron then struts away from the water, drops the fish on the bank, rearranges it, grabs it up and downs the fish in one big, satisfied gulp. It seemed to give a nod in my direction, though I might have imagined this.greatblueheronusfwfrankmiles
Imagine my surprise. I’d never dreamed I was chumming for the benefit of a Great Blue Heron!